So what is software craftsmanship?
A better metaphor: In a very simplistic way, we can say that software craftsmanship is a better metaphor for software development than software engineering, as I wrote in a previous post. Software craftsmanship sees software as a craft and compares software developers to the medieval blacksmiths. Apprentices would work with more experienced blacksmiths, travelling from place to place, working with and for different masters, learning different tools and techniques, improving their craft until the point they were good enough to become master themselves. (There is more to it, but let’s keep it simple for now).
Wikipedia Definition: is an approach to software development that emphasizes the coding skills of the software developers themselves. It is a response by software developers to the perceived ills of the mainstream software industry, including the prioritization of financial concerns over developer accountability. (read in full)
I personally don’t like too much the Wikipedia’s definition. It’s very dry and I don’t think it captures the essence of what being a software craftsman means to a software developer.
A more personal definition: Software craftsmanship is a long journey to mastery. It’s a lifestyle where developers choose to be responsible for their own careers and for improving their craft, constantly learning new tools and techniques. Software Craftsmanship is all about putting responsibility, professionalism, pragmatism and pride back into software development
A software craftsman cares and is proud of his or her work and is extremely professional and pragmatic when it comes to its implementation.
The Software Craftsmanship Movement
The software craftsmanship movement is basically an evolution of ideas that started probably in the late 90ies, early 2000 with the publication of The Pragmatic Programmer by Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas (1999) and Software Craftsmanship: The New Imperative by Pete McBreen (2001). In 2008, Uncle Bob proposed “Craftsmanship over Execution” (originally Craftsmanship over Crap) as the fifth value for the Agile Manifesto. In 2009, the Manifesto for Software Craftsmanship was created, defining the values of the movement and international Software Craftsmanship conferences emerged in the US and UK.
In the manifesto, the essence of software craftsmanship is captured in its subtitle: Raising the bar. The manifesto was idealised by very experienced developers that had had enough of project failures mainly caused by poor management, ill processes and, of course, badly-written code.
Developers are taking the matter into their own hands and are trying to change how the industry sees software development not just proposing new and revolutionary processes but showing customers that they care about what they do and that they want to work together with their customers in order to produce great and long-lived software.
The values of the Software Craftsmanship Movement
Not only working software, but also well-crafted software
Working code is not good enough. Think of a 5 year old application (it could be 2 or 10) where we are scared to change some of its parts (fix bugs, add new features, etc.) because we don’t understand how it works and have no confidence that we will not break anything else. This application is working software but is it good enough? Well crafted software means that regardless of how old the application is, developers can understand it easily, side effects are well known and controlled, high test coverage, clear design, business language well expressed in the code and adding or changing features does not take longer that it used to take at the beginning of the project, when the code base was small.
The code must be maintainable and predictable. Developers must know what is going to happen when changing the code and must not fear changing it. Changes should be localised and not cause impact in other parts of the application. Tests will guarantee that nothing else was broken.
Not only responding to change, but also steadily adding value
This is not just about adding new features and fixing bugs. This is also about constantly improving the structure and cleanliness of the code. The software must be seen as an asset and the constant maintenance of it will make it more valuable during its lifetime, instead of letting it rot and devalue.
The Boy Scout Rule (defined by Uncle Bob) states that we should always leave the code a bit cleaner than we found it. This is a paraphrase of Boy Scouts rule: leave the camp cleaner than you found it.
If customers want to keep benefiting from adding and changing features quickly, they will need high quality code to enable them to do it.
Not only individuals and interactions, but also a community of professionals
This is somehow related to the idea of apprentices, journeymen and masters, where software craftsmanship masters will mentor apprentices and help them in their journey. The software craftsmanship community is responsible for training the next generation of professionals. Knowledge and ideas must be shared and discussed within the community in order to keep moving the software development industry forward.
Not only customer collaboration, but also productive partnerships
Software craftsmen need successful projects to build their reputation and are proud of their achievements. Successfully delivering high quality software is essential for any software craftsman journey. With this in mind, software craftsmen will do whatever they can for a project to succeed. They don’t act like simple employees that just do what they are told to do. They want to actively contribute to the success of the project, questioning requirements, understanding the business, proposing improvements and productively partnering with their customers or employers. This is an interesting shift of perspective, if you like, and the advantages for the customer and for the project success are enormous. A well-motivated team has a much bigger chance to make any project succeed. However, if the customer is not prepared to have this partnership and sees software development as an industrial process and the least important part of the project, this customer will never have real software craftsmen working for him for too long. Not getting involved with the business, not questioning requirements, not proposing improvements and not knowing the customers needs is not a partnership. Real software craftsmen make the customer needs, their needs.
The original torch of the Agile message has changed hands, and is now being carried by the Software Craftsmanship movement. These are the folks who continue to pursue the technical excellence and professionalism that drove the original founders of the Agile movement.
The Software Craftsmanship Movement is another step forward towards better and healthier software projects. Instead of just focusing on processes, it focuses on the quality of the software that is produced and most importantly on the attitude and competence of the people involved.
Software Craftsmanship brings pride and professionalism into software development.